This past Monday, the Villanova Wildcats secured their second National Championship in 3 years, with one of the most dominant tournament runs in history. One of the craziest NCAA tourneys in recent memory ended with one of the most predictable winners. As a Philadelphia-native currently living in Dallas, I had family who we excited to go to the game, and they invited me to tag along. We made the 4.5 hour drive down to San Antonio and watched Villanova absolutely dismantle Michigan. It was a great experience, but as an alum of The U and someone who currently writes about their basketball team, I couldn’t help viewing the game through the eyes of a Canes fan wondering why we’ve never been there.
This isn’t meant to be a depressing look at Miami Basketball, but instead a look at how the level of success Villanova achieved is not as impossible as it might seem. Growing up in the Philly-area, I was always aware of Villanova, even though I wasn’t attached to the university in any way (I wasn’t a fan and I didn’t have any family that went there). They were just one of the Philadelphia Five, along with Temple, St. Joseph’s, La Salle and Penn. There was lots of basketball tradition in Philadelphia, but none of those schools were Duke, North Carolina, or Kansas. At my age, schools such as Syracuse, Florida, and Maryland were more prevalent in basketball to me. However, over the last 15 years, Villanova has been to multiple Elite Eights, Final Fours and now, National Championships.
On paper, Villanova and Miami are very similar. Both are private schools close to a major city. Both are similar in size (Miami has 10,000 undergrads to Villanova’s 7000) and cost (both around $50,000 for tuition). The campuses are similar in size geographically, and have a similar reputation for academic rigor. In most other general aspects, Miami actually has the edge. Better weather, newer facilities, and better brand recognition are some of the things Miami can claim over Villanova. But the two areas that Villanova has a clear advantage over Miami is on-court success and program culture. If we’ve learned anything over the past couple seasons (and this year’s tournament), the two are very closely related. Here are 3 things that Miami can replicate from Villanova to improve the basketball program’s culture and on-court success.
Bring in Local Talent
We hear about the “State of Miami” in football recruiting all the time. What Villanova has done during their recent string of success is constantly bring in local recruits from the Philadelphia area and the Mid-Atlantic region. The two Most Outstanding Players from their last two National Championships were from Langhorne, PA (Ryan Arcidiacano) and Wilmington, DE (Donte DiVincenzo). Likely NBA Lottery choice Mikel Bridges comes from Malvern, PA (basically the next town over). Even head coach Jay Wright is a local product from Newtown, PA (not saying we need to replace Coach L with a local coach, Coach L needs to stay as you’ll see below). Yes, they still recruit from out of the area, but the bulk of their roster come from the surrounding cities and states and have some emotional investment to the program before they come in. This makes talented players want to stay and be a part of the legacy. While Miami does not have a ton of legacy in its basketball program, the recruits coming in will have the memories of the Larranaga teams that were successful and sent players to the NBA. That’s a start, and if anything we need players willing to come play for the honor of putting the U on their chest. It’s already an emphasis for the football program, let’s bring it over to basketball.
Recruit and Develop Shooters
The knock on Villanova for a while (at least when I was growing up) was that they didn’t have real big men, all of their inside players were European-style big men who were great shooters but couldn’t bang with the big boys. Now we see that basketball has shifted towards the hybrid players at both the college and pro levels, and those same big men are a luxury for Villanova. The Wildcats were nearly impossible to defend because of players like Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall who would sneak out to the perimeter once opponents got a hold of perimeter stars Jalen Brunson and Mikel Bridges and burn them for more 3’s in bunches. Every player on the floor for Nova could hit outside shots consistently, and while basketball minds often say “you live by the 3 and you die by the 3,” it’s hard to bank on 7 different players all having an off night at the same time. Miami needs to keep up with the trend of a higher emphasis on the 3 point shot.
Stick with Coach Larranaga
Yes, this season was somewhat of a disappointment. However, we all must acknowledge that the last seven seasons have been better than the norm for Hurricane basketball. While that doesn’t sound like a truly ringing endorsement, we should take it in context. Jay Wright’s first seven seasons at Villanova included 1 Elite Eight appearance, 2 Sweet Sixteen appearances, 1 Round of 64 appearance, and 3 trips to the NIT. Coach L’s first seven seasons in Miami included 2 Sweet 16’s, 2 Round of 64’s, 2 trips to the NIT and 1 year out of the postseason. Jay Wright reached the Final Four in his eighth season, and then didn’t get past the Round of 32 again until 7 years later. If you have a coach that makes the NCAA Tournament somewhat consistently, then you’ve taken the first step towards success in College Basketball. Once you’re in the tournament, a strong team culture can carry you deep into the tournament (see Loyola Chicago). We have a coach that gets us to the NCAA tournament. Now we need to build that culture to make a run. Coach Larranaga has proven he can do that, as he has taken a mid-major George Mason team to the Final Four. Let’s keep him around as long as possible and let the team flourish.
What systematic changes would you make to the Canes Hoops program? Let us know in the comments.